Impact rookies (cont.)
Paul Kruger, Ravens
The high-motor Kruger will fit somewhere into Baltimore's defensive front rotation and instantly provide some of the situational pass-rush impact he's known for. He plays with a relentless intensity and he's the kind of find-the-ball type of defender the Ravens always seem to uncover in the draft.
In the long run, Kruger may emerge as the obvious replacement for veteran Trevor Pryce at left end, but initially he might be asked to bring some heat opposite Terrell Suggs at 3-4 linebacker. Whatever the role, it won't take Baltimore long to creatively find ways to get the second-round pick on the field this season.
B.J. Raji, Packers
No apologies for going with the chalk pick here. At No. 9, Raji went higher than any nose tackle in 23 years (Tony Casillas, No. 2 in 1986 to Atlanta) for good reason. He's a multi-dimensional talent who's big and stout enough at 6-2, 337 pounds to eat up space in the middle of Green Bay's 3-4 defense, but athletic and explosive enough to create rare amounts of pass rush and penetration from the nose. As a rookie, he's expected to either quickly beat out Ryan Pickett for the starting nose tackle job, or be a force inside in passing situations as part of Green Bay's defensive line rotation.
Larry English, Chargers
When you think of impact at outside linebacker, you think of pass rush, and that's exactly what the Chargers were after when they surprisingly selected the Northern Illinois defensive end 16th overall. English played a 4-3 end in college, but he's a nice fit for what San Diego looks for in a 3-4 linebacker.
He won't start with Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips entrenched on the outside, but he'll play plenty because more than half of San Diego's defensive snaps last season came against three or four-receiver sets. The Chargers were thrown against 605 times last season, second most in the league.
San Diego might have taken English with an eye on losing Merriman in two years, but it also envisions all three outside linebackers playing at the same time in some packages, with Merriman and English rushing from the edges and Phillips being moved around inside.
James Laurinaitis, Rams
First-year impact obviously has plenty to do with opportunity, and no inside linebacker has a better chance to be in the starting lineup on kickoff weekend than the ex-Buckeye. The Rams took Laurinaitis 35th overall with an eye on replacing Chris Draft in the middle, and that's why we give him the nod over Bengals second-round middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (38th overall), who likely will have to play behind the still-productive Dhani Jones for at least a year. Rams fans are going to love Laurinaitis, who craves contact and will quickly emerge as a leader for a team desperate for some.
D.J. Moore, Bears
I'm going with a bit of a hunch here, but Chicago rookie cornerbacks have been pretty strong this decade (Charles Tillman in 2003 and Nathan Vasher in 2004). In Moore, the Bears got a player who most draft-niks projected to go in the second round, maybe the top of the third. Instead he lasted until the fourth round (119th overall), once 17 other cornerbacks had been selected.
The junior from Vanderbilt doesn't lack for confidence, telling one paper, "I think the Bears are getting one of the best players in the draft -- they're getting a steal.'' We agree. The knock on Moore is that he's a tad under 5-9, but he plays much taller. He has superb athletic skills, seems to find the ball with regularity, and can make up for his lack of height with strong vertical leaping ability.
Louis Delmas, Lions
In grabbing Delmas with the first pick of the second round, Detroit landed an aggressive, hard-hitting safety in the mold of Bob Sanders and Troy Polamalu. Delmas goes only 5-11, 202 pounds, but Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said he wants athletes at safety who can play "the vacuum cleaner'' role and "vacuum up all those runs that break the line of scrimmage.''
Delmas is quick enough to cover a team's third receiver and he fits the recent NFL trend of safeties who are really just cornerbacks that don't mind having to tackle someone. Delmas should be a starter from day one in Detroit.
Pat White, Dolphins
Taken in the second round, White might just turn out to be the ultimate specialist coming out of the 2009 draft, rather than just your run-of-the-mill return man or kicker/punter variety. Miami says it will give White the opportunity to prove himself at quarterback in the long term, but you can bet the Fish will use the former West Virginia QB as a passer, runner and maybe receiver in their vaunted Wildcat formation for the time being, with maybe some punt or kickoff return duties thrown in for good measure. In Miami this season, White is the new Brown. Ronnie Brown, that is.
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